Friday, September 5, 2014

Coherence

One of the easiest ways to make a movie for cheap is to set it in one interior location. But one of the hardest things about creating a cheap movie is to make it for cheap, but not cheap looking. The new micro budget headtrip, Coherence, accomplishes both feats. The entire film is set in (and directly around) one home, and takes place over one particularly troubling evening. Rather than let its minimalist setting work against it, Coherence embraces its own physical claustrophobia. It traps you in its unsettling atmosphere and dares you to pick it apart.

Eight friends gather for a dinner party. They discuss work, failed relationships, homemade drugs, and the freaky comet currently orbiting above them. Oddities soon occur: iPhone screens shatter inexplicably, the power is cut off, loud bangs are heard at the door, but, most importantly, several of the people in the group seem… off. Shortly after dinner begins, their behavior becomes increasingly erratic, suggesting that this is not how these people usually behave, but rather, how they are behaving on this particular night. A guy fondly recalls a drunken night between he and his ex (who is at the party), while his current girlfriend sits next to him; a woman can’t remember seeing the dinner host in a show called Roswell, despite the fact that he was the star and she was a huge fan of the show. There are universal lapses in judgment, unneeded insults, and just generally off behavior.

Once the power goes out, two guests go check out a house in the distance that is still fully lit. Minutes later, they return injured and shell shocked, and report that when they got to the lit house, they looked through the windows and saw their exact same dinner party sitting inside. From there on, Coherence develops into a rather fascinating exploration of human nature when confronted with illogical circumstances. Writer/director James Ward Byrkit (who set the film in his own home) wisely grounds the movie with his characters, rather than the science fiction elements of the story. Similar to Shane Carruth’s modestly budget, sci-fi headtrip, Upstream Color, the people are the focus of Coherence, not the uniquely realized sci-fi.
Basically, this is one hell of an interesting movie. It presents puzzling conflicts and executes them in a compelling manner. But because of the film’s modest size, the success of the picture rests heavily on the actors involved. So to say that Coherence works is not only a testament to the actors (namely lead actress Emily Baldoni, who deserves to be a big star), but also the manner in which their performances were captured.

Very little of Coherence was scripted, forcing the actors to rely on their improvisation skills, and adapt to whatever variable Byrkit initiated. For example, the actors were unaware that the power was going to cut off during dinner, so their fearful reactions are valid. Byrkit directed them to adapt, learn, figure out the situation. It’s a risky way to make a movie. If you have just one bad link among the actors, then the believability of the film crumbles. But if you pull it off, as Coherence does, then the film will be full of natural performances inexplicably forced to take command of an unnatural setting.

Coherence is a science fiction film for people who don’t particularly care for science fiction films (and for those who do, certainly). Its central mystery is challenging in all the best ways, and its performances are refreshingly authentic. But perhaps the most significant praise I can offer Coherence is that the second it was done, I had the impulse to watch it again immediately. I couldn’t wait to see what new clues were waiting for me. B+

16 comments:

  1. Great review! I love when you talk about little films like this. I saved it in my Netflix queue so I remember it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Brittani! I love doing what I can to bring attention to smaller, but very well made films. This one is a real gem.

      Delete
  2. Wow, this sounds like an interesting movie. I might have to take a look at it if I get the chance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I highly recommend it man. This one was fun to dissect.

      Delete
  3. This sounds awesome! It's really cool that you review the films that inexplicably get overlooked at the end of the year :) I'll keep it on my watch list. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Aditya! Yeah, in the grand scheme of things, Coherence probably won't "make it" very far as new, bigger movies are released this fall. But I really enjoyed it. Hope you get a chance to check it out!

      Delete
    2. I was finally able to watch it! I really enjoyed it, I thought the story was great, the acting and the directing were both top-notch as well. I missed a lot of things on my first viewing, so I definitely need to watch it again soon! Thanks for posting your review, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to watch it as soon as I did :)

      Delete
    3. I'm so glad you watched it! I love that my review was able to motivate you :)

      Also really glad you enjoyed it. I definitely need to check it out again soon. I feel like you could get more from it every time.

      Delete
  4. The last largely improvised film I saw was American Hustle, so I was skeptical at first, but your review really won me over. The plot sounds so interesting, I love when that happens!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, there's a difference to David O. Russell's style of improvisation. Russell encourages frenzy, not only from the performers, but from the camera as well. I didn't like American Hustle that much, because I thought it was too loose and scattered. Coherence is improv done right. It's tight and honed in, but still natural. Really hope you're able to check it out soon!

      Delete
  5. I have this on my Letterboxd watchlist. I definitely want to check this out as I like to see these little gems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you'll like it. A nice little puzzle to try and solve.

      Delete
  6. "Rather than let its minimalist setting work against it, Coherence embraces its own physical claustrophobia. It traps you in its unsettling atmosphere and dares you to pick it apart." Right on! Excellent summation!

    I loved this movie. It was such a pleasant surprise. And the end.....don't want to spoil it for everyone else, but that closing shot takes it to such an extra cognitive level. Like, it's ultimate surprise was that it's not just messing with you, the viewer, but was making Emily realize that, well, you know since you saw it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes yes YES! Love that we're on the same page here. This flick really worked for me, which is always a nice surprise, considering I knew nothing about it going in. Thanks for the comment man!

      Delete
  7. I hadn't heard of this, but it does sound interesting. I might have to check it out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trippy little flick. I think you'd like it.

      Delete